By T.J. Buffenbarger
Last Friday’s World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series program was the only “home game” of the year when I see the Greatest Show on Dirt and manage to return to my own bed. This was also my first opportunity to see the new, shorter layout for the race track at Hartford.
The 27 car field was larger than I expected. The car count was impressive when I considered the quantity of competitors I crossed paths with roaming the pit area in street clothes. The late July date right before the trip to Wisconsin for the Outlaws seems to work well for the crowd and racers with a gigantic crowd on hand the event.
David Gravel’s late race heroics at Hartford seems to be setting a trend for the weekend leading the last three laps on Friday and two on Saturday at Wilmot for his 11th and 12th Outlaw feature wins of the season. Gravel and the driver he took the lead from late in the program at Hartford, Brad Sweet, seem to be the leading contenders to take on Donny Schatz for a Nationals victory.
The new Hartford layout made a good impression with the on track product. The unusual shape seems to promote passing. Even with several cautions and an open red that stretched the main to around 43 minutes the feature was extremely compelling. Several drivers made moves up through the field, with several that dropped back after making progress. Four lead changes in the feature and having Logan Schuchart move up from eighth starting spot to third, Brent Marks going from 15th to fifth, and Greg Wilson’s hard charger effort advancing 16 positions to 9th shows the potential of the track.
The biggest fan and competitor complaint I heard throughout the evening and after the program was the extreme dust throughout the program. Fans do need to keep in mind there is more than one entity when it comes to decision on the prep for these large events. Several of the local drivers were steadfast the track was not like that for any of their events so far this season. That being said though ASCS and Outlaw program last year had similar conditions on the larger track.
Considering the Dibble family that owns Hartford Speedway has had to suffer through their son being extremely ill and still managing to get this track reconfiguration completed it was amazing a World of Outlaws race, or any event, was staged there this season. I think with one more off season to tweak the layout a bit and some fresh clay the dust situation can be easily overcome. With the amount of attention the Dibbles pay to the rest of the facility I think with a less tumultuous off season I’m anxious to see what is next for Hartford.
- Jeremy Schultz was a surprise entrant at Hartford considering the Interstate Racing Association was in action at Antigo, Wisconsin on the same night. Schultz had an impressive qualifying effort landing in fifth position. Schultz eventually lost four positions in the main event to finish 15th. Schultz is entered for the Knoxville Nationals next week and is eligible for rookie of the year honors in that event.
- Jay Steinebach was able to hustle away the final transfer spot in the waning moments of the B-Main, but unfortunately became the only red flag of the main event after pounding the wall in turn three. Thankfully Steinebach was okay and damage was minimal in relation to the ferocity of the impact.
- Hartford was Sean Zemunik’s next to last appearance in America for 2017. After an extremely aggressive tour of the United States Zemunik rounded out his tour by hustling his car into the show at Hartford before finishing up at Wayne County on Saturday.
Other notes from around the country…
- If you haven’t seen the World of Outlaws highlights from Wilmot Raceway do yourself a favor and check them out. While this version of the format the Outlaws are using may not create the most exciting heat races, it does seem to produce good feature racing.
- Saturday I managed to do some couch spectating via theCushion.com of Knoxville Raceway’s program with nearly 100 410 and 360 sprint cars in the pit area. Terry McCarl’s sweep of both features was one of the more impressive feats I’ve seen this year. It will be interesting to see if McCarl can keep the momentum going over the next two weeks.
- The other standout from that program was Jamie Veal. Leading the 410 feature until the final laps when he was boxed in traffic Veal was impressive at Knoxville. With his family team completely focused on the US effort I think Veal could be interesting to watch during Nationals.
- While Mansfield Motor Speedway’s Great Lakes Dirt Nationals has made some waves being booked against the Knoxville Nationals it isn’t the only big race the same week as Knoxville. Australia’s Northline Speedway in Darwin also has a big show that Saturday with the Chariots of Thunder sprint car series Mark-A-Wish cup. Mitch Wormall, who has been over the United States this summer, is one of the Australian teams heading back to run the event in Darwin.